Illumination assumptions account for individual differences in the perceptual interpretation of a profoundly ambiguous stimulus in the color domain: "The dress"

J Vis. 2017 Apr 1;17(4):5. doi: 10.1167/17.4.5.


There has been considerable interest in a stimulus ("the dress") that yields starkly divergent subjective color percepts between observers. It has been proposed that individual differences in the subjective interpretation of this stimulus are due to the different assumptions that individuals make about how the dress was illuminated. In this study, we address this possible explanation empirically by reporting on data from ∼13,000 observers who were surveyed online. We show that assumptions about the illumination of the dress-i.e., whether the stimulus was illuminated by natural or artificial light or whether it was in a shadow-strongly affects the subjective interpretation of observers, compared to demographic factors, such as age or gender, which have a relatively smaller influence. We interpret these findings in a Bayesian framework by also showing that prior exposure to long- or short-wavelength lights due to circadian type shapes the subjective experience of the dress stimulus in theoretically expected ways.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Lighting*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology